The Digital Life: How To Go Paperless

digital life logoWelcome to the first edition of “The Digital Life,” a new column where we will delve into ways to make your life completely “digital.”

Palm VxI am a big proponent of a truly digitized life. My fascination with a “paperless life” started with my very first PDA – the Palm Vx (back in the day when Palm was just one company). It struck me that the future would be a world where things like paper organizers, business cards, and even money would eventually be made obsolete by technology.

Compaq TC1000Then came the Tablet PC. My first Tablet PC was the Compaq TC1000. Wow! That was my impression – not just of the device, but of what this meant for “the future.” The tablet allowed me to write notes and annotate powerpoint and pdf documents in my own handwriting, and directly onto the tablet’s “digitizer” screen. That was a revelation. No longer would I have to print out powerpoint presentations for lecture, no more homework written on paper, no more note-taking in a spiral notebook. Freedom at last!

From that point on, I shunned paper and committed myself to turning my entire life digital. I even started to scan my textbooks… until the day it all went wrong. This is where we talk about our very first step in going “digital.”

Backup, Backup, Backup

I can’t stress this point enough. Although it seems like an obvious necessity, it’s real easy to ignore it or wait to “do it tomorrow.” From the very first day of your digital conversion, make sure you have a separate hard drive to offload ALL of your data. Don’t just backup your data into another folder, go get an external hard drive, flash drive, or even a web-based service. If you lose your primary hard drive, that backup directory isn’t really going to do you much good.

Flash Drive

If your important data is limited to mostly documents or pictures, a simple flash-based USB drive is your best bet. Get yourself at least 1GB. Flash drives prices have plummeted in recent months and you can easily find a 1GB flash drive for under $40.

Web-based Storage

Again, if your backup needs are not too expansive, you can opt for the convenience of web-storage. The downside here is that you will have to wait for each file to upload to the server, which can take a lot of time depending on your file size and internet connection (even that speedy DSL line will take some time – it’s your upstream speed, not downstream, that’s important here). Some services also limit file size, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Here are a few services to consider:

  • Xdrive – an application for web-based storage. You have to download and use their software to upload files, but you get enhanced uploads and 5GB of free storage space.
  • Google’s GSpace – a Firefox browser plug-in that will allow you to upload files to your GMail account, treating it as a network drive.
  • MediaFire – a new web-based service offering 100% free and unlimited file storage.
  • Mozy – offers a free application-based web-storage solution, but for more than 2GB of space you will need to sign up for their premium service

External Hard Drive

Now, should your backup data include a good amount of multimedia files (high-resolution pictures, videos, games, applications – all legally obtained, of course), you will need an external hard drive setup. There are basically three types of external storage solutions.

  • First, there are external desktop drives. Not designed for portability but they are faster and boast much larger capacities. These drives will require an external power supply, to power the larger and faster 3.5″ hard drives. This means more cables and bulk.
  • Secondly, we have NAS (network attached storage) external drives. Essentially an external desktop drive that is accessible through your network connection. These drives also require an external power supply and are the bulkiest in this bunch.
  • Lastly, there are portable external hard drives. Utilizing smaller and slower 2.5″ laptop hard drives, this type of external storage draws power from your usb port. This means you will sacrifice some transfer speed for ultra-portability.

Unfortunately, I learned this lesson the hard way. I fell victim to my own ego. “I’m an ‘expert,’ I know what I’m doing, catastrophic data loss can’t happen to me,” I told myself. Guess what? Just like an earthquake or a car accident, a failure resulting in total, or even partial, data loss can happen at any time – without warning.

Learn from my mistake and get your data backed up now.

Next time, we’ll discuss solutions that will help you lighten your paper-load.

  • helmut

    well, i use combination like this to go paperless:
    Freemind mindmaps on my flash (can’t find any good online mindmaps tool, i’d like to see it from Freemind) + big docs on Google Docs + small notes on Google Notebook + my FTP for some urgent big file transfers. oh, and plus my firefox bookmarks sync via Google plugin!

  • Will Park

    I like the idea of using free online services for file exchange.

  • Don Sakers

    I would lvoe to read this article, but the Vibrant advertising system keeps interrupting me with popups. I tried to disable it, but the “disable” option does nothing.

    I’m going to add to my list of blocked websites. Sorry.

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